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We Have the War Upon Us: The Onset of the Civil War, November 1860-April 1861 Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 11, 2012
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“The book reads like a Shakespearean tragedy played out on the national stage, where everything is converging toward a point of catastrophe, and the one thing that could avert disaster at the last minute (in this case, some kind of compromise) fails. . . . There are moral implications here, as well as historical.” —The Daily Beast
“Cooper suggests Lincoln might have forestalled the march toward secession by speaking out before his inaugural, but he refused and was as firmly opposed to compromise as the rest of his party. . . . The book gains momentum as the crisis deepens and Cooper describes the enormous pressures on Lincoln as he agonized whether to reinforce beleaguered Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor.” —Seattle Times¶
“In this compelling blend of crisp narrative and shrewd analysis, William J. Cooper examines the most profound crisis of the antebellum American Union through the eyes of the contesting political camps. The result is a triumph of balanced, wise, and genuinely fresh historical writing: a book that brilliantly captures the uncertainty, the search for compromise, and the role of contingency during these fraught months.” —Richard Carwardine, author of Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power
“We Have the War Upon Us is the best survey of the secession crisis published in a generation. There is no more important question than how the Union fell apart in the wake of Abraham Lincoln’s election in November 1860. Cooper answers it with a clarity that comes only after years of research and thought. This is a book for scholars to ponder, but for all interested readers to enjoy.” —James Oakes, author of Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861—1865
“William J. Cooper’s superb new book reminds us that whatever the influence of vast political, social, and economic forces, history is ultimately the story of human beings making decisions based on flawed perceptions and imperfect knowledge. This powerful narrative will keep readers enthralled even though they know the outcome. Here moderates such as John J. Crittenden and William H. Seward share the stage with Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, radical Republicans, and southern fire-eaters. Rejecting an irrepressible conflict interpretation, Cooper shows how the partisan, ideological, and sectional interests of political leaders gradually drove the nation toward the abyss. This sobering work recaptures the anguish of the nation’s greatest crisis and surely holds lessons for our own time.” —George C. Rable, author of God’s Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War
“Written with characteristic panache, deeply researched, and replete with shrewd judgments and welcome fresh perspectives, Cooper’s richly detailed study of the secession crisis should delight fellow scholars and general readers alike. It’s a gem of a book.” —Michael F. Holt, author of By One Vote: The Disputed Presidential Election of 1876
“Written from the perspectives of Americans who experienced the efforts to forestall disunion and war during the five months between November 1860 and April 1861 and could not know the full consequences of their actions, this book captures the drama and tensions of those perilous times. Especially noteworthy is Cooper’s treatment of William H. Seward, whose struggles to patch together a compromise form the main thread running through this important book.” —James M. McPherson, author of Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief
“A compelling and exciting narrative of the tumultuous six months between Lincoln’s election and the cannonading of Fort Sumter. . . . [Cooper] weaves this story not just through the eyes of Southern ‘fire-eaters’ and Northern Radicals, but examines the roles Northern and Southern conservatives and moderates played in the crisis as well. The result reads more like a political thriller than a historical textbook, though it excels as both. . . . A superb history of how faction and party brought about disunion and war.” —Armchair General
“Drawing on his wide knowledge of the time period, Cooper clearly enumerates the many ways the Civil War could have been avoided and how many people were clueless as to the real threat, especially Lincoln. Illuminating Civil War history from an expert in the field.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Cooper leaves no stone unturned as he explores the hard decisions and compromises leading up to the war, beginning with the way Lincoln’s election changed the face of American politics. . . . Cooper’s research is thorough and unbiased, assigning credit and blame on all sides. . . . Civil War buffs will appreciate the expert examination of the period.” —Publishers Weekly
About the Author
William J. Cooper is a Boyd Professor at Louisiana State University and a past president of the Southern Historical Association. He was born in Kingstree, South Carolina, and received his A.B. from Princeton and his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University. He has been a member of the LSU faculty since 1968 and is the author of The Conservative Regime: South Carolina, 1877–1890; The South and the Politics of Slavery, 1828–1856; Liberty and Slavery: Southern Politics to 1860; Jefferson Davis, American; Jefferson Davis and the Civil War Era; and coauthor of The American South: A History. He lives in Baton Rouge.
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These are just a few of the thought-provoking issues raised in Dr. Cooper's book. Like the excellent college professor that he is, he doesn't answer these questions for you but lets you draw your own conclusions with the research that he presents.
This book is very readable and I found it to be a real honest-to-goodness page turner! That is much to say for a book that I would classify as an excellently researched academic history.
Cooper provides a large cast of characters in this book,of which the most notable are Lincoln, Seward, and Davis.
The election of 1860 was very unusual in that there were several candidates as the result of a Democractic party that was split, a Unionist party which appealed to the border states, and the new Republican party which was elected by a pluarity of votes, but still carried slightly less than 40% of the votes cast. To make it even more divisive, all the states carried were northern states. By December of 1860, South Carolina was leaving the union, and with it came six other deep South slave states, a far different circumstance than when South Carolina tried to nullify the tariffs under the Jackson administration and no other states joined.
Even with seven states out of the union, there was a great deal of scrambling in both houses of the Congress, most notably headed by John J. Crittendon of Kentucky, to work out some type of constitutional compromise to appease the wayward states, but the Republican party members were not in a compromising frame of mind. Lincoln, at the head of the party, felt they had won the election and he and the party would stay true to their fundamental belief that slavery had to be contained where it was and not allowed to expand into new territories. Cooper carefully shows how over the months, several ideas were put forth and the Republican Party representatives in the Congress stayed together and stifled every attempt at compromise. You could say that Lincoln might have compromised and averted the war, but when you consider the many compromises the nation had gone through for decades, I got the impression that the Republican party was tired of all the jocking for position and by winning the election, looked to force the issue.
William H. Seward is one of the three prominent characters presented here, and while I could enumerate the many things he was involved in, suffice it to say that he tried everything under the sun to appeal to the moderates (the border states)to stay in the Union in the hopes that the seven states seceded would eventually return. He dangled hope to the southern states sitting on the fence for a long time. Eventually, his actions regarding Fort Sumter and his duplicity regarding the operation at Ft. Pickens, frustrated Virginia into leaving the nation. With North Carolina sandwiched between South Carolina and Virginia, her choice became evident. There is also good information on Seward in Seward: Lincoln's Indispensable Man but the author casts him more so in the light of an indespensible statesman, which I think is a stretch.
Cooper did impress me with his reasoning as to why Lincoln broke with the tradition of a Henry Clay, who would compromise in order to preserve the union, while Lincoln behaved so differently when the time was critical: first, Lincoln was ignorant of the South, having largely not travelled there and having few friends from the region, secondly, his vigorous partisanship for his party, and his visceral anti slavery stance. In spite of his sometimes conciliatory assurances to the South, the fire eaters would have none of it. I suppose, that in some ways, it was time for the nation to nearly destroy itself to rid itself of the cancer of slavery and sectionalism.
Cooper has written a masterful work here and I highly recommend it.
By careful adherence to the time line relating to all of these, he has managed to chronicle events and views in a coherent fashion,clearly leading the reader to an understanding of the many pressures and ideologies which resulted on the War.
The book chronicles in careful detail-- but in a highly readable style-- the concurrent elements of the times;the evolution of the new Republican Party, and the effect of former members of the Whig Party on that evolution; the existing sectional tension between the forces of the agrarian South and those representing the emerging mercantilistic and manufacturing North; the emergence of powerful Radical Republicans,and abolitionists; the free soil vs. slavery issues relation to the formation of new Western States; and it recognizes the South's production of 80% of the Nation's exports, and income, upon which Congress applied crippling tariffs--such as the Morrill Tariff-- in order to provide the revenue for a subsidy which directly benefitted only the creation of an industrialize North.
Mr Cooper's book has added a new dimension to understanding a very complex era in our young Nation's history.